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Carl Orff's Philosophies in Music Education

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While Carl Orff is a very seminal composer of the 20th century, his greatest

success and influence has been in the field of Music Education. Born on July

10th in Munich, Germany in 1895, Orff refused to speak about his past almost

as if he were ashamed of it. What we do know, however, is that Orff came

from a Bavarian family who was very active in the German military. His

father's regiment band would often play through some of the young Orff's

first attempts at composing. Although Orff was adamant about the secrecy of

his past, Moser's Musik Lexicon says that he studied in the Munich Academy of

Music until 1914. Orff then served in the military in the first world war.

After the war, he held various positions in the Mannheim and Darmstadt opera

houses then returned home to Munich to further study music. In 1925, and for

the rest of his life, Orff was the head of a department and co-founder of the

Guenther School for gymnastics, music, and dance in Munich where he worked

with musical beginners. This is where he developed his Music Education

theories. In 1937, Orff's Carmina Burana premiered in Frankfurt, Germany.

Needless to say, it was a great success. With the success of Carmina Burana,

Orff orphaned all of his previous works except for Catulli Carmina and the En

trata which were rewritten to be acceptable by Orff.

One of Orff's most admired composers was Monteverdi. In fact, much of

Orff's work was based on ancient material. Orff said:

I am often asked why I nearly always select old material, fairy tales and

legends for my stage works. I do not look upon them as old, but rather as

valid material. The time element disappears, and only the spiritual power

remains. My entire interest is in the expression of spiritual realities. I

write for the theater in order to convey a spiritual attitude.1

What Orff is trying to say here is that he does not use "old" material, but

material that is good enough to be used again. If one eliminates the fact

that this material was written many years ago, then there is nothing to stop

that material from being any less legitimate in recent times.

Orff's work in Music Education has been astounding. In the early 1920's,

Orff worked with Mary Wigman. Wigman was a pupil of Emile Jaques-Dalcroze,

another very influential name in Music Education. In fact, Orff's approach

to music is very similar to Dalcroze's, but Orff focuses on education through

percussion instruments. In 1924, Orff joined Dorthee Guenther and together

they founded the Guenther School. The schools focus was coordinated teaching

of gymnastics, dance, and music. Orff believed that music, movement, and

speech are not separate entities in and of themselves, but that they form a

unity that he called elemental music. When Orff refers to elemental music,

he means the music, movement, or speech created by children that requires no

special training, or in other words, the things that children do without

really thinking about it. The basis for the Orff method is the belief that

the historical development of music is reenacted in the life of every

individual. This means that, when a child is young, he is similar to a

primitive human being - at least musically - in that both are naive and rely

primarily on natural rhythms and movement to make music. Although this

theory has not been very widely accepted by most music educators, this is

where the Orff method of teaching music begins. The Orff method was so

impressive to the public that the Ministry of Culture recommended the

adoption of the Guenther-Orff experiments in the elementary schools in

Berlin. Unfortunately, the rise of Hitler and the outbreak of war stunted

the growth of these plans. Finally, in 1948, the German broadcasting

authorities urged Orff to resume his educational activities.

The Orff approach, not unlike the Suzuki method, begins with the idea that

music should be learned by a child the same way a language is learned.

Suzuki calls this the "mother tongue approach". A child learns to speak

simply by listening and then imitating and then, later in life, the child

learns to interpret symbols as a written form of that language. So, then, a

child should learn music in the same way. At an early age, a child is

exposed to music and learns to sing and play percussion instruments, then,

later in the child's musical development, he learns to interpret the symbols

on a score as music. The music a child learns during this time of his life

is very simple melodies that involve a lot of moving. Orff believed that




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